Shame on PDX

Tuesday, September 28 2004

Carrie and I flew into Portland International with our two kids last night, complete with two car seats, and four bags, various backpacks and diaper bags. While Carrie watched the kids and gathered up the luggage, I took the shuttle to the economy parking lot to retrieve our truck, and made my way back to the terminal to load up.

I ran inside, grabbed the car seats, and brought them out to the truck and began installing them with the intention of getting the kids in the car so Carrie and I could get the rest of the luggage in. Before too long the traffic control guy was blowing his whistle at a few cars around me with people waiting, telling them that the curb was for loading only, no waiting.

It took me a while before I realized that he was also whistling at me. He came up to the back of the car where I was loading a car seat, tugging me by my pants belt loop as I was hunched over the seat trying to buckle it in. He said “Sir, this is the last time I’m going to blow my whistle at you. This zone is for immediate loading only.” I figured he couldn’t tell I was installing the seat, and said “That’s exactly what I’m doing” in what I felt was a pretty calm and rational tone considering I’d just spent the last 5 hours with a toddler and infant and tons of luggage getting my little family to the airport and on to a two hour flight.

He seriously flipped out at the point. “I’m going to tell you one last time – if you don’t get your ass out of here I’ll have the police do it for you.” So I matched his intensity, and seriously flipped out. You know when you see baseball coaches get in shouting matches with baseball umpires, and their faces are about two inches away from each other? We did that for a moment. I calmly yelled in his face that right on the other side of the glass, in his view, was my wife and kids and all of their luggage, waiting to load. He responded by calmly yelling that I would probably be arrested. I calmly yelled back that there was no way I could load my family without spending some time loading my car seat. I was seriously upset.

After we spent some time exchanging communication at high decibels, he turned to someone waiting to get picked up and said “Can you believe this guy” referring to me. And the businessman he was trying to get on his side turned out to be on my side. He said “Yes. I can.” very firmly, and then “His family is right there with all their luggage. He’s going as fast as he can.”

He didn’t like this and said he’d arrest me if I didn’t move the truck. So I got in the truck, fully intending to drive four feet, and stopping again, but figured that might not be a good idea, and left to go right back around the terminal to “reset” this man’s “clock”.

By that time, Carrie had managed to get the rest of the luggage and kids to the curb. She hadn’t seen what happened, but knew something was up because the guy was heading my way again, very agitated. I quickly explained what was up, and I think he was able to say “You gotta get that truck out of here” before Carrie seriously unleashed on him. I can’t remember what she said, but it was intense, and in his face. At that point, I was asking him to bring the police because it was crystal clear that I was loading while he kept telling us to get out of there. I expected that they’d show a traveling family a little more respect also, and side with us.

He never did bring the police, and interestingly, when Carrie brought out a pen and paper to write down the guy’s name, he vanished. I think he realized he didn’t have a leg to stand on when we were indeed loading, and was trying to duck out instead of stop and accept his defeat.

Having now spent at least 18 hours or so cooling off and thinking about the incident, one thing is disturbing. As a family with kids in car seats, there was no way to immediately load, according to his definition of immediate, the car seats. Car seats take time to load, and even if Carrie had been standing there with all the luggage to begin with, it would have taken 20 minutes to load the seats. They have to be done properly, and you can’t rush it.

So we’re not dropping this issue. We’re going to file a complaint with the airport, sending all communication via certified mail, and we’re going to try to get two things accomplished by doing so: a formal apology from the wannabe traffic cop, and an official statement on how parents traveling with kids can install car seats. Maybe they need a zone where car seats or other types of items (like wheel chairs, etc) can be installed within close proximity to the baggage claim. Depending on their official statement, we might take it further.